Lifespans in the Old Testament


Do we have an inkling why the lifespans of some people in Genesis are recorded as so long? Compare this to the book of Psalms, where the average lifespan for a person is listed as threescore and ten, or fourscore if you are strong.


The point of the long lifespans in the Bible is not that they were living a long time but that they were dying at all. What would have been shocking is not that they lived long lives but that death had entered the world.



If you plot out the lengths of life versus generations in Genesis, you will see that they stay in the 800s and 900s (except for Enoch, of course) up until the flood, then go off a cliff.

By the time it gets to Aaron and Moses, in Exodus, it has fallen to the 120s. Lifespans are not counted in Scripture after that.

It would seem that either the flood changed something about our world that became inimical to long human life, or that Noah’s descendants were shorter lived; or both.



God allowed humans to live long lifespans until around the time of the flood when He capped the max to about 120 years.

Genesis 6:3 Then the LORD said: My spirit shall not remain in human beings forever, because they are only flesh. Their days shall comprise one hundred and twenty years.


Is that to be taken literally or is there a meaning to it? What if, with the science and technology that we may develop, human beings will be able to live longer than 120 years?


Maybe because they didn’t eat GMO foods and McDonalds? :shrug:


We shouldn’t be concerned that they lived a long time. We should be concerned instead that we don’t live a long time. Sin = death. That’s the point.



There are a few explanations one could hold, in no way is anyone bound to any of these interpretations. The Church is silent on the interpretation of long lifespans in the OT.

  1. Human life spans are longer before the flood, after the flood human life is drastically cut short, probably because of the sin of man.
  2. Years actually may not refer to a full human year.
  3. Related to #2 but slightly different, 10 years = 1 human year, so someone living 800 years really lived 80 years.
  4. the years are purely symbolic of the general decline in lifespan leading up to the flood and after the flood
  5. the genealogies are fictional, and all of the stories at-least before the flood are used for religious stories and to teach religious truth. None of the people listed living for hundreds of years hundreds of years actually existed.

Each of these views have its problems.


we already know that there is no such thing as a 120 cap on Human life.

Jeanne Louise Calment lived 122 years and 164 days born in 1875 and died 1997.

she is the only one ever to pass 120 I believe.


The numerical durations might be employed as an epic, but it has to be held that mankind has a single origin through Adam & Eve, because of how it relates to Original Sin.

What seems strange about this is how the age is given. It doesn’t say “Adam lived to be 900” or “1000”, but that he lived to be “930”. Jacob lived to be 147, which is an oddball number, as though it were meant to be literal.


as I said each has it’s problems.

actually St. Augustine talks about the 10 year = 1 year thing in the City of God. This is where I got the idea from. Augustine was criticizing it but he may have changed his mind on this matter so one could still hold it. Plus Augustine is not authoritative, but I would not go against Augustine on many things lol.


Cases 2 and 3 can be dismissed because a) agricultural people definitely know what a year is; and b) in dividing by ten one gets a new set of problems, e.g. ten-year-old boys fathering children.

As was said, there is no Church teaching on this matter; believe as you see fit.



It is my understanding that this passage refers to how many years were left before the flood at the time of the statement.


Actually, the notes to this statement in the Douay Rheims recognizes both readings. That is, one may read it as either they would no longer live to be 900+ years, but only around 120, or they only had 120 years to repent and change their ways before God would send the Deluge.

And there are of course other interpretations. Here are a couple more:

  1. The people listed in the geneologies may not be individuals, but actually whole tribes, or lines, or families which are so-called after the “father” of the line. Thus, the tribe of Seth, for example, was a
    tribe that was around for 912 years, and 105 years into that line, Enos was born and it was through his line (among the other descendents of Seth) that the Covenant passed.

  2. The referenced ages are actually numerological symbols. The number of the beast in Revelations is six hundred and sixty-six, and is said to be the number of man. Man was created on the sixth day. The sixth day is one short of the seventh, which represents completion, or natural perfection. Therefore, six represents imperfection, and is associated with evil. At the height of Solomon’s power, his kingdom took in six hundred and sixty-six talents of gold per year. Noah was six hundred years old when the Deluge came upon the earth; a time of great wickedness. Three is a number closely related to holiness and God. Henoch, lived three hundred years after begetting Mathusala, “and walked with God, and was seen no more, because God took him.” Their ages may represent some significant event whose meanings we’ve lost in the sands of time.


I think you are right. (Although I would like to point out that Joshua and Caleb had fallen to the 110s) What interests me is how from Noah until the promised land, the drop in lifespan seems to have dropped in gradual increments.

I have sometimes wondered if something in the earths atmosphere was affected by the flood, and our human health/strength slowly degraded after that?


My great grandmother lived to 121. I also read a book about a society of people somewhere in Asia who lived on average up to 160 years until modern people encountered them, now they live on average about 110 years.

120 year cap is not strict to the number but just general cap of ± that amount of years. The average human will not live passed 120 years.


makes sense
are you holding to the idea that the 120 “cap” is literal in the Bible, that after the flood God limited people’s length of life?




what is your evidence so to say of this? or What sources do you pull from to back up your claim. I’m not saying it is incorrect but I find it hard to believe that humans could live hundreds of years.


In the absence of entropic deterioration to the cells, a body would continue to live indefinitely.

There may well have been a factor in the atmosphere, or the water, prior to the flood, that would have slowed the entropic process substantially.


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